Search and Hit Enter

VAC STATEMENT 452iQ Musicbloc: American icon in the making


Audio enthusiasts and music lovers may ask themselves the existential question, why are we here? Fundamentally it is the pleasure, the emotional reward of music live or recorded. Our journey from the inception of AQ back in the late 90’s was to get a little closer to the sound of live music with some soulful audio products. We embraced design classics, meticulously hand made with cutting-edge performances. It was a journey – to the destination that created relationships with unique creators behind the designs of turntables, valve amp engineers and speaker makers. Putting together a system that is an investment but also an heirloom product has been vindicated. Some audio designs we covered are worth more today that the seemingly high price at the time. The simple pleasure, the function our existence was to enjoy music as realistically as possible via a hifi system. The emotional reward was as important as any design belief or orthodoxy. 

We first became conscious of the work of Kevin Hayes, owner founder of the  Valve Amplification Company, a Florida based manufacturer with the revival of the, ‘Marantz  legendary Model 7 Preamplifier, Model 8B Stereo Amplifier, and Model 9 Monoblock.’

These classics valve amps of the late 50’s and 60’s were sought after by collectors and lauded for the finest examples of audio engineering of that period that challenged for performance the emerging and numerous new valve amps of the late 90s.

Working with Marantz Japan, the US based maker not only replicated new as vintage with as many originally sourced parts the design classic but evolved and improved a widely accepted perfect design classic. Not a mean feat. And only designers with a true love and passion for the history of the valve amplifier and unparalleled manufacturing skills would attempt such a venture in making a state of the art vintage amp. So good was the amp,  ‘VAC’s Marantz Classic Model 9 was the best selling high end amplifier of any type in Japan in 1997.‘

True heirloom products are beyond standard economic rationale. Owning a component that fulfils the reason why we listen to audio, to be a close to the real thing as possible, and in a form that has an innate feeling of rightness. 

In parallel to the late 50’s deigns of the Marantz, a design classic of the automotive world, 

‘Nineteen fifty-eight was the final year for the legendary Porsche 356 A Speedster.’ 

The Porsche to say the least is less obtainable today, however a VAC built Marantz would have been one that should have been acquired by AQ to add to a collection of British vintage amps. It was one that got away.   

Design classics never die but live on. So does the spirit of their designers.

After three decades of making amps Kevin Hayes, launched at the recent 2019 Capital Audio Fest, at Rockville MD a new heirloom amp. The modestly named, Statement 452iQ Musicbloc power amp and defined as ‘the finest amp made in the 29 year history of the company’ and that is saying something.

The 452iQ Musicbloc power amp has unique design and performance qualities. Having spoken to a leading speaker design in the US and with an intricate knowledge of the amp maker, he defined the 452 as hitting the holy grail of high end audio, ‘the balance between resolution and musicality achieved’. The 452 sets the bar higher than before as it is, ‘More accurate, Tonally accurate and Quieter’.  The designer would without question chose the 452 as his amp of choice.

We had the opportunity to briefly chat to Kevin Hayes, the designer and maker of the 452. Kevin, was quite the Anglophile when using his choice of expression to describe his response to the ground breaking amp, he was “gobsmacked”.  Not a technical hifi term but it took a second to work out the guy who makes wonderful state of the art amps has excelled himself, “as the 452 “in dual mono out performed exiting mono designs.”

We feel a degree of serendipity that when we renew our publishing plans for AQ that Kevin once again is lauded to have made the valve amplifier perhaps of the decade. A great place to reconnect to those who that make and evolve high end audio into heirloom components that represent the closest form possible to the actual live event of music. And in your living room to boot. We feel that the 452 is the amp that vindicates our belief that our reason to exist can be the importance to bring to focus such important shifts forwards in performance. We see today new standards in audio. New opportunities to experience more realistically the recorded event. More emotional rewards. The 452 is such an amp.

The amp is a vertical design standing approximately 28 inches tall. As part of the “statement series” by VAC it has all new circuitry and design innovations. The 452 is not design for design sake. As beautiful as it is it, compact and a tower of valve amp machine aesthetics, it is not design for design sake. Not the whimsical form of Gallic design but more akin to the Porsche 356 A Speedster, with its roots  design roots in Bauhaus where form follows function. 

The 452 looks the way it does because a vertical orientation, has improved natural damping effects, linearity of design, and electrical improvements. The placement of tubes in a vertical design was common in the 30s, 40s, and 60s such as Western Electric Theatre amps. 

As part of the Statement series, the amp is made of the finest components and construction. All of VAC amps are carefully sound tested before shipping personally by Kevin Hayes. There is absolute quality control as VAC and the 452 amp exudes quality . 

The MUSICBLOC concept is a novel foundation to building an heirloom audio system with a stepped approach. Each amp can perform in dual mono at a level of state of the art mono amps. And can be switched to a mono configuration at a later date. Great amp work in synergy with great loudspeakers. We understand that the 452iQ partnered with the VSA Ultra 11s at the show delivering critically acclaimed performance that is now the norm with VSA and VAC.

However, the ‘affordable’ smaller foot print Von Schweikert Audio Endeavour SE loudspeakers driven by the 452iQ in dual mono made a hit performance by all accounts. Thus demonstrating that a true design icon can live today with peoples loudspeakers such as the Endeavour SE ( ‘Kevin, argued that it is enough of a loudspeakers, all that you could want’) or redefine why we exist in music culture. To enjoy and feel one with the real recorded event. 

The Marantz Classic Model 9 is lauded as a Japanese valve amp icon, the Porsche 356 A Speedster, a German automotive classic and VAC 452iQ is an American audio design icon in the making.